“History is sexist”: heritage forgets women artists

From left on the right, starting from the top: Anna Atkins (botanist), Carole Roussopoulos (director), Zanele Muholi (photographer), Camille Claudel (sculptor), Simone de Beauvoir (philosopher), Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (painter).

From left on the right, starting from the top: Anna Atkins (botanist), Carole Roussopoulos (director), Zanele Muholi (photographer), Camille Claudel (sculptor), Simone de Beauvoir (philosopher), Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (painter).

The days… of matrimony » ? On September 17 and 18, the European Heritage Days take place, but also those of the matrimony. This is not a neologism invented by feminists: in reality, this term has existed since the Middle Ages to designate property inherited from the mother, when heritage designates those inherited from the father. A few centuries later, all that remains are the prestigious heritage days and marriage agencies… »quipped on France Culture the director and researcher Aurore Évain, who has worked hard for the rehabilitation of cultural heritage.

How did this word disappear from our dictionaries ? At XVIIe century, matrimony was banned from the French language by academics, who considered the term obsolete and even burlesque ». It reappeared in the 2000s under the pen of researchers in the human sciences, in particular the ethnologist Ellen Hertzwhich traces the history of this word.

In 2013, it was rehabilitated thanks to Aurore Évain, whose the works on the theater of women of the Ancien Régime inspired the activists of the movement HF, which fights for gender equality in culture. They took over the term on their own and in 2015 launched the patrimony days » to celebrate the cultural heritage left by women artists and creators of the past.

Niki de Saint Phalle, on August 23, 1967, during the installation of her first museum exhibition, entitled “ The Nanas in power at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Wikimedia Commons/ CC0 1.0/Jack de Nijs for Anefo

History is sexist »

Eclipsed from history books, women authors, painters, philosophers, researchers, architects, poetesses, composers, directors or choreographers have existed, but often in the shadow of their male counterparts. History is sexist »notes Camille Morineau, art historian and author of the book Women artists. Since his lessons in gender studies (gender studies) on the benches of the prestigious American university Williams College, in Massachusetts, the researcher is involved in rehabilitating the works produced by women. In 2014, she even left her position as curator at the Georges Pompidou Museum to create theAssociation Aware [1]entirely dedicated to this cause.

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girl in green by Tamara de Lempicka. Flickr/CC BY 2.0/ Jean-Pierre Dalbera

According to the researcher and activist, the invisibilization of women is partly attributable to historians: They considered their work not to be as important or interesting as that of male artists. » She notably takes the example of the Polish painter Tamara de Lempickaas famous during his lifetime as Picasso, in the words of the historian: She was widely recognized by the press, and she earned a very good living, even better than some male painters, but historians have judged her to be more of a “decorator” than a real painter, and they didn’t retain her. »

As for museums, Camille Morineau points out that this lack of documentation around cultural heritage can also be a hindrance for exhibitions of women artists: You have to build knowledge about these women artists before showing their work, because it’s difficult to put on an exhibition if you don’t know anything about the artist. »

Underrepresented in art and culture

Findings shared by Marie Guérini, president of the association HF Île-de-France, which coordinates the Heritage Days. According to the activist, this event constitutes a historic repair » in the face of what she sees as a notorious injustice » which is still perpetuated today, women artists still being largely under-represented in the cultural milieu.

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Roberta Gonzàlez is the icon of the 2022 Matrimony Days.

This year mother » iconic heritage days will be the cubist painter Roberta Gonzàlez, virtually unknown to history books and search engines. Part of her work will be exhibited and accompanied by a reading of excerpts from her diary on September 17 and 18, at 4 p.m., at the Espace des femmes Antoinette Fouque, in Paris.

In the rest of France, the initiative is spreading, particularly in Brittany and Normandy, where the movement HF is very present. What reassures us is that we have more and more proposals from women artists who wish to participate in the heritage days.says Marie Guerini. We don’t have to let go ! »

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“History is sexist”: heritage forgets women artists